Munsterplatz in Basel
Wettsteinbrücke in Basel

One of Switzerland's underrated tourist destinations, Basel has a beautiful medieval old town center, a fascinating Carnival, and several world class art museums built by architects like Renzo Piano, Mario Botta and Herzog & De Meuron. Basel is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque Münster (cathedral), a Renaissance Rathaus (town hall), and various examples of high quality contemporary architecture, including more buildings by Herzog & De Meuron, Richard Meier, Diener & Diener, and various others.

Located in the Dreiländereck (three countries' corner), Basel is a gateway to the Swiss Jura mountains and nearby cities of Zürich and Lucerne, as well as the neighboring French region of Alsace and the German Black Forest. There are a number of things to see and do if you have a few days to spend.


Dreiländereck, borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France meeting at the Rhine harbour of Basel

The town of Basel lies in the north-western corner of Switzerland. The town shares borders with France and Germany and is the heart of this tri-national region - the Dreiländereck (three countries' corner). Besides its own attractions it can serve as a good entry point to the Alsace, Black Forest regions or the canton of Basel-Land.

A Basilisk, the mythical dragon holding the coat of arms and protecting the city

The Rhine curves through the city and divides the town into two parts. Situated on the south and west bank is Grossbasel (Great Basel) with the medieval old town at its center. Kleinbasel (Little Basel), featuring much of the night-life, is on the north bank.

Visiting Basel can be a holiday for your vocal cords if you plan to absorb the beautiful art in silence exhibited in the many first-rate museums. Once a year it also hosts Art | Basel (see Do) which is the world's premier fair for modern classics and contemporary art.

Basel has one of the most amazing carnivals you're likely to see, called Fasnacht. If you're there during the "three loveliest days" of the year, prepare to be amazed, and don't expect to be able to sleep. (See Do, Festivals).

BaselTourismus, +41 61 268 68 68, the local tourist information service, has several offices, including at the main station, Bahnhof SBB, and in the city center, in the Stadtcasino building at Barfüsserplatz, directly across the street from McDonald's. To organize guided tours, you can also visit the office at Aeschenvorstadt 36, +41 61 268 68 32.


Basel is a cosmopolitan city because of its university and industry and its proximity to the borders of France and Germany. The official language of the city is German, but the majority of the population speaks Baseldytsch, an Alemannic dialect, as their mother tongue. German is taught in schools and fluently spoken by virtually everyone, so if you speak German and they notice that you are a foreigner, they will most likely answer you in German. Also widely spoken are English and French, both of which many people are able to communicate in comfortably enough to deal with everyday interactions and will gladly work to understand you. Borrowed French words are fairly common in everyday conversation; for example, Baslers often bid each other farewell with the French "adieu". Basically, the average Basler understands and speaks fluent Baseldytsch, German, English, and often French.

Get in

By plane


The Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is the only bi-national airport in the world. Built on French soil about 4 km from Basel, it is connected with the city by a customs-free road. Several major airlines, including Swiss, Air France, British Airways, Wizzair and Lufthansa, serve the airport. Besides the national carriers, EasyJet is building up a larger base in Basel. Current destinations are airports in the surroundings of Berlin, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Alicante, Barcelona, Nice, Palma de Mallorca, Tuzla and Rome. Another low-cost carrier is Air Berlin, which flies to many holiday destinations, e.g. some Greek islands and the Canary Islands. Moreover, Air Transat offers seasonal service to Montreal.

In the arrival hall you can choose to go through the Swiss customs and take the customs-free road to Basel or to go through French customs. Some flights to the EuroAiport are described with Basel (BSL, Switzerland) as the destination, while flights from France or other Schengen airports usually indicate Mulhouse (MLH, France) as their destination, although it is the same airport. To confuse you completely, the airport has a third international code, EAP, although it is used less frequently than BSL and MLH. When searching for flights to Basel, it may be helpful to search for all three destinations.

From the airport, visitors can rent a car, though the most comfortable ways of getting into centre are 1: taking bus 11 from the French exit to the railway station in St Louis and changing to the Basel commuter train to Basel SBB station, 2: the bus no. 50 from right outside the Swiss arrivals area to the Basel SBB train station. Most hotels offer a free mobility pass, which includes bus transport to and from the airport. Showing the bus driver your hotel reservation might allow you free transport. Otherwise, if you take the bus to the center of Basel, you must purchase a two-zone ticket at the bus stop for 3.80 CHF or the equivalent amount in Euros. This ticket is valid to anywhere in Basel, and you do not need to buy another ticket when you change to a tram. If you have a trioregio local ticket, you can also travel via St Louis as it is valid until Mulhouse, France.


Swiss, the national airline of Switzerland, offers tickets to Basel consisting of flights to Zurich Airport (ZRH) and an SBB train ticket between the airport (which has its own train station on the line between Zurich and Basel) and Basel SBB (IATA code ZDH, for details on the station see below). This solution is called Airtrain. Those tickets can only be bought when booking directly with Swiss or through a travel agent. The train leg will appear with a four-digit "flight" number starting with a 7 on your ticket.

You do not need a separate train ticket for the train journey, but you need to board any Basel-bound train from the airport or airport-bound train from Basel SBB for the return flight (there are about 20 daily, you can board any of them on the day of your flight) with a boarding pass for the flight, including the ZRH-ZDH leg, containing a barcode. Mobile boarding passes are INSUFFICIENT as they do NOT contain a barcode - you may incur a CHF 12 fine if you do not have one with a barcode.

The journey between ZRH and ZDH lasts 80 minutes. Passengers travelling in Business and First Class on their flight are entitled to travel in First Class on the train. Miles&More members get 1000 miles for completing the journey (1500 for the railway leg complementing a Business Class ticket).

Note that Swiss also offers a daily return flight between ZRH and the Euroairport under the code LX 2990 and LX 2991. Those can be more expensive than the connection with the train.

By train

Badischer Bahnhof "Basel Bad"
Central station "Basel SBB"

Basel has two main train stations. The Basel SBB station is south of the town center and the Basel Badischer Bahnhof (abbreviated Basel Bad Bf) is to the north in Kleinbasel. All trains call at Basel SBB with Deutsche Bahn trains also calling at Badischer Bahnhof.

Swiss SBB trains depart from the Swiss capital Zürich (53 min), Bern (55 min) and Geneve (2½ h) every half-hour. Slower regional trains connects with most major Swiss cities, there is at least one departure every second hour.

Deutsche Bahn runs high-speed ICE trains every second hour from Berlin (7 h) via Frankfurt (2½ h), which itself has plenty of trains heading for Basel. Paris is only three hours away with the high-speed TGV trains of SNCF. Basel can be reached from most other major French cities with a simply change in Mulhouse which is connected by frequent regional trains. Other cities with direct connections include Brussels (6½ h), Luxembourg (3:20 h) and Milan (4 h).

Basel is also a hub for night trains, services are nightly from Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague with City Night Line.

By tram

Basel is one of only two places on earth where you can cross an international border on a streetcar, or tram. Tram route 10 crosses the Swiss-French border twice, passing into and out of French territory. So it is possible to travel to Basel by tram from the French commune of Leymen. Unfortunately, Leymen station is not connected to the rest of the French railway network. The international tram line is operated by BLT, public transport company.

By car

When arriving from Germany via the A5 highway, you pass the border control near Weil am Rhein just outside Basel and enter the city via the same highway, now named A2/3 (you're in Switzerland), which passes north of the city center and continues on to other Swiss cities, including Zürich, Berne, and Lucerne. To get to the city center in Grossbasel (the larger section of the city) look for signs to Bahnhof SBB; if you want to arrive in Kleinbasel (the smaller part on the other bank of the Rhine), look for Messe Basel. Arriving from Zürich or central Switzerland, you are on the same A2/3 highway, just in the opposite direction - same exits. For parking in the city, see below Get around - By car.

If you drive into Basel, make sure you have a valid Vignette (toll sticker) if you drive on the Autobahn! The Vignette costs CHF 40 and is valid for the calendar year indicated on the sticker. If you do not and are caught without one, expect to pay a fine of CHF 100 plus the cost of a Vignette.

By boat

The Rhine is navigable to Basel, and in the summer cruise ships operate on from Amsterdam to Basel, with intermediate stops.

By bus

Although not strictly into Basel, MeinFernbus operates long distance bus services to Lörrach from Freiburg, Frankfurt, Hannover, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and many other cities in Germany. Tickets can be very affordable, especially when booked in advance. From Lörrach the S-Bahn runs every 30 minutes to Basel SBB.

Get around

On foot

This is the standard mode of travel for many within the city. Old Basel isn't very large and there are many narrow and winding side streets with incredible slopes.

The State Archives, a medieval mansion in an alley on Münsterberg

The shopping streets in the old city are closed to car traffic. Tourists will walk a lot - and be pleased and impressed at every turn. But the walking can be a bit strenuous after a while, particularly when walking on cobblestone alleys in the old town, which can also get quite steep. Walking around Basel can be a real cardiovascular workout for some if you wander off the main streets - but it's the best way to experience the city.

WARNING: Trams have the right of way over just about everyone - all the time. Keep an eye out for them as you cross a street, including on pedestrian crossings.

By tram and bus

Basel has an extensive tram (light rail) and bus network. The bright green trams and buses are the greatest amenity you can imagine: absolutely prompt, relatively inexpensive, clean and very convenient. Each stop has maps of the public transport system and a listing of arrival times.


Inside the city limits, all destinations farther than 4 stops away are 1 Zone, cost 3.00 Francs. As long as you are travelling away from the stop where you got on, you can ride on the same ticket for as long as the ticket is valid. The fare for buses and trams is the same and transfers (changing) is free. There are also special buses that connect to nearby towns in France and Germany.

Basel's old city centre

Tram and bus travel is on the honor system. Nobody collects your ticket. Periodically, a number (4-8) of "tram police" (undercover agents) board a tram and quickly examine everyone's ticket before the next stop. If you don't have one, there is an on-the-spot fine of 80 Francs. Even in this exercise, there is efficiency - if you don't have cash available you'll be given the option to pay later at the office on Barfüsserplatz, but then it will cost you CHF100.

Handling trams and buses

To open the door from outside press the button near the door on newer (low floor) trams, or the orange lit button beside the door on older trams and buses. Inside, press a button on the door of the newer trams or the small black button on the grab rail near the door on older trams and buses, and the door will then open automatically as soon as the tram stops. Doors close automatically before the tram starts moving. Hold on! Trams accelerate quickly and brake quite abruptly. Upcoming stops are announced by a recorded voice in Standard German (as well as English and French at main stops) along with the numbers of connecting trams at that stop.

Trams change routes slightly at certain times of year (summer, Fasnacht). This will be signposted at stops, and usually also on the overhead screens that display departure times - see photo (look for a scrolling message highlighted with ***). If a tram is temporarily diverted because of an accident this is announced inside and at stops over PA - but in Swiss German: ask a fellow passenger or the driver if it's Greek to you.

By bike

Basel is a bicycle-friendly city, with many well-marked bicycle lanes throughout the city, and even traffic signals and left-hand turn lanes for bikes. While drivers are generally aware of bikers, be sure to use hand signals and ride defensively. Beware of the trams! If you are not careful, your wheels may also get stuck in the tram tracks and this can make you fly. Helmets are not required (although recommended), but lights and bells are. The Swiss are quite keen cyclists, so don't be surprised when an old lady goes flying past you on her bike while going uphill.

Besides local commuter bike lanes, there are specific bike trails that connect to other parts of Switzerland (via the Veloland Schweiz network, (recommended for overland bicycling tours). These bike trails are indicated by signs at some intersections.

Bike Rental

Bikes can be rented locally from the Rent-a-Bike underground bike park, +41 51 229-2345, at Centralbahnplatz, underneath the Basel SBB railway station.

By boat

Münsterfähri - ferry below the Cathedral

By car

Driving in Basel is not recommended for visitors, as inner city streets can be confusing - and are shared with trams (note that cars must yield to trams). Parking in the old city is relatively expensive and scarce. Most mid-range or luxury hotels have or help with parking. In addition, there is a network of clean, safe (and payable) public garages at the periphery of the city centre, generally open 24/7. If you stay for the day only and are driving via highway into Grossbasel, try Centralbahnparking near the SBB Station; if you're entering in Kleinbasel, try Parking Badischer Bahnhof, near the German railway station. Closer to the city center in Grossbasel are Steinen Parking at Steinenschanze 5 and Elisabethen Parking, at Steinentorberg 5, and in Kleinbasel Messe Basel Parking at Messeplatz. A handy website with availability and driving directions to all public garages can be found here.


Old Town Attractions

Most of the "old town" attractions in Basel are in a walkable area between the Basel Zoo (just south of the Basel SBB train station) and the Rhine. Since most stores are closed on Sundays, it is a good day to plan to see one of the many museums, which are usually open. Basel and surroundings have over 20 museums, and many of these have a free opening hour at the end of the day.

Basler Münster (Basel Minster)
Basler Rathaus (Town Hall)


Basel prides itself on having more than two dozen museums, covering a wide range of subjects, from art - emphasized below - and architecture to cartoons and even doll houses. Perhaps the most important ones are:

Kunstmuseum Basel
Tinguely's Fasnachtsbrunnern / Carnival Fountain

Equally interesting are the contemporary art spaces near Basel, all reachable by public transport:

Other Worthwhile Sights and Discoveries


Basel is one of the major cities in Switzerland and offer all activities of an urban center. Most popular is the Basel Carnival but the Basel ferry is the icon.

Events and Festivals

Basler Fasnacht

This is Basel's version of Carnival, and a premier event during the year, lasting for three straight days, beginning on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. Don't confuse it with the more raucous festivals in traditionally Catholic areas, such as the German Rhineland (Karneval) and Munich (Fasching), or Carnival in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It can actually have a kind of somber feel, although with a distinct poetry and subtle humour, which you may learn to like. Many locals are dead-serious about it, often preparing their costumes and practicing their skills on the traditional musical instruments (military drums and piccolo flutes) throughout most of the year. If you are not a Basler, avoid dressing up silly or putting on make-up, as this is neither customary nor appreciated by locals - who mostly prefer to stay among themselves for what many consider "the three loveliest days" of the year. But that's no reason to be discouraged (thousands of tourists aren't anyway), just have the right approach:

Fasnacht starts Monday morning with an eerie procession called Morgestraich: At precisely 4AM, street lights are turned off, and hundreds of traditional bands (cliquen), dressed up in elaborate costumes and masks ("larven"), parade through the densely packed streets of the old town. Arrive well in advance - and on foot - or you will not get through to the city center. It's not recommended for the claustrophobic, although it is peaceful, despite the masses. Absolutely DON'T use flash photography! It ruins the atmosphere, marks you as a tourist and creates hundreds of instant enemies. Morgestraich lasts for about 2–3 hours, during which restaurants are open - if mobbed - and you can warm up with a traditional zibelewaie (a kind of quiche) and a mählsuppe (a soup made of sauteed flour). It's an acquired taste, so perhaps wash it down with a glass of white wine. Almost all of the restaurants mentioned in the Eat section below are open during Morgestraich - but perhaps don't choose McD. After Morgestraich, everyone goes home to get some hours of sleep - or sometimes to work, if you are a Basler.

There are similar parades, the cortège, by the cliquen on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, along a predetermined route through most of the inner city. Note again the elaborate costumes and masks, and the large hand-painted lanterns ("ladäärne"), the pride of each clique, often designed by a local artist. Each clique chooses a sujet, a motto that typically pokes fun at some (often local) political event of the past year and which is reflected in the costumes and lanterns. You don't need to understand the sujet to appreciate the beauty of the artistic renderings. The lanterns are also on display on Tuesday nights, at Münsterplatz. In the evenings, the cortège route is all but abandoned, and large and small cliquen roam through the smaller alleys of the old town (gässle). It is common for spectators who like the look or sound of one of the cliquen to follow it around on foot for a while. As the pace of the cliquen is a slow stroll, and as the music can be lovely, this may even be kind of romantic, particularly if you are holding hands with a date. But note that Fasnacht is nothing like Mardi Gras, so don't expect ladies baring their breasts. Overt sexuality is a no, and aggressive attempts at picking up are frowned upon, as is binge-drinking. Remember: it's an almost somber if poetic affair. Try to blend in with locals, perhaps express some friendly curiosity about a costume or a sujet when talking to someone, and you are likely to have a much better time.

Tuesday is the day of the children, and of the Guggemusig, noisy brass bands that intentionally play off key. On Tuesday night at 10PM, dozens of these bands play on two stages, at Claraplatz and Barfüsserplatz. This is the one day where things get much merrier, particularly in the more proletarian neighborhoods of Kleinbasel, where many of the Guggemusige have their home.

Burning Bäse

Art | Basel and other art fairs

Other Fairs and Markets

Hall 2 of Messe Basel

Art | Basel and BaselWorld shows take place at Messe Basel, Messeplatz (Kleinbasel) one of Switzerland's biggest trade fair venues, which also hosts several other trade shows throughout the year.

Theater and Classical Music

Other theater venues include Fauteuil and Tabourettli, box office +41 61 261 26 10, two small stages in a medieval manor on picturesque Spalenberg 12, near Marktplatz, presenting (very) light comedy, usually in Baseldytsch, and some Fasnacht-related events during the season; and Musicaltheater Basel, Feldbergstrasse 151, near Messe Basel, box office via Ticketcorner.

Dance, Rock and Jazz




Basel is a center of the pharmaceutical industry. The international pharma giant Novartis is headquartered in Basel. as well as the smaller Hoffmann-La Roche. There are also other large chemical and life sciences companies such as CIBA Specialty Chemicals, Syngenta and the aluminium company Lonza.

Basel also has several IT and software companies that offer international jobs.

Basel is (jointly with Zürich) headquarters of UBS, Switzerland's biggest and internationally active bank and home of the Bank for International Settlements.

Work Authorization

Note that Swiss immigration laws are strict. To become a legal resident of Switzerland and to legally access the labor market requires the necessary permits. If you are a citizen of one of the 15 countries of the EU prior to the latest enlargement, a bilateral agreement providing for free movement of persons makes it much easier to get the permits. If not, you will need to have special skills and generally have to be sponsored by an employer. Working illegally can lead to criminal prosecution and detention pending deportation.


Basel's "shopping mile" goes from Clarastrasse (Claraplatz) to Marktplatz and up Freiestrasse and Gerbergasse to Heuwaage and Bankverein. Much of the shopping here is in specialty stores and luxury boutiques, with a few department stores. Like other large Swiss cities, Basel has many jewelers, horologers (watches), and chocolatiers. Try to veer off the beaten track and check out Schneidergasse (off of Marktplatz), the hilly Spalenberg and adjacent little alleyways such as Heuberg, Nadelberg, which are not only lovely to walk through but where you are likely to find more original shops, selling artisan jewelry, antiques, specialty items, vintage clothing, books, art, etc. Retailers are generally cheery and very competent, polite and helpful.

There are many places in Basel, including bigger kiosks, where you can buy (relatively) cheap - and mostly kitschy - souvenirs, but if you're looking for something special, go to Heimatwerk (see below). Souvenirs are also available at the SBB Station.

Prices of name brands are generally uniform across the city - and across the country. Discounting has only recently made inroads in Basel. Expect to pay the same price anywhere for a Swiss Army knife or a watch.

Most stores close promptly at 6:30PM Mo-Fr, except for Thursday when many stores are open until 8 or 9PM. Stores close by 5PM on Saturday and nothing is open on Sunday. Exceptions are the stores in and around the train station, the supermarket Coop Pronto at Barfüsserplatz and a number of small family businesses in residential areas. VAT is included in prices, and there is generally no haggling. Some luxury stores offer tax-free shopping for tourists.

Basel market (in the Marktplatz) runs Monday to Saturday until 1PM, selling mostly local organic produce. Not cheap, but worth considering for a picnic.

For the very cheapest, try the Fleamarket in Petersplatz on Saturday.

Shops worth visiting

When you have filled your stomach with chocolates you may wish to move on to more substantial items:

Basel, home of the renaissance philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, also prides itself of many good bookshops. Here are some:


Basel has a thriving restaurant and café (see below Cafés) culture, and the streets of the old town are lined with outdoor seating in the summer.

Not all restaurants in Basel accept credit cards (though an increasing number do). If in doubt check first.

As in most of Europe, tipping is not a requirement. It is common (but not universal), to round up to the nearest 10 or 20 Franks, for example by refusing the change from a note.


Food in Switzerland is generally more expensive than other countries in Europe, and those on a budget should consider preparing their own food from the grocery store (closed in the evenings), or taking a trip up to nearby France or Germany.


Many of the restaurants in the historical part of Basel near Marktplatz are generally of good quality, these include the easily located Löwenzorn ("lion's fury"), Gifthüttli ("poison cabin"), and Hasenburg ("hare's castle"), all of which serve traditional Swiss dishes in a rustic environment - don't be scared by the names, no one gets devoured by wild animals or poisoned.... These places are always packed during Fasnacht. In addition, here is a list of places, not necessarily in the old town but still worth a visit:



In Barfüsserplatz, the major beer hall (at least in years gone by) receives its resupply via a tanker truck from the brewery with a very large hose delivering its precious cargo into the tanks of the rathskeller. This looks a lot like a delivery of heating oil in most commercial enterprises! The consumption of beer in this area (near the University) is really serious!



You can choose between a wide array of old-style, trendy and alternative coffee houses. Many restaurants or bars also serve coffee outside meal hours and before nightlife begins and it is perfectly acceptable to nurse a cup for an hour while reading a newspaper or book. Some places have outdoor seating in the summer.


If you plan on staying in Basel during Fasnacht, BaselWorld, or Art | Basel be sure to book your room well in advance. Most places are booked solid during these times.




Stay safe




Every Swiss takes great pride in his/her work. Every position is a profession demanding excellence. The bartender, housekeeper, tram driver, retail clerk, street sweeper, waiter, etc. aims to be perfectly competent. This attitude is reflected in the everyday life you will experience in Basel and throughout Switzerland. Don't mistake the Swiss penchant for privacy and calmness as indifference. They are earnest and interested, but generally reserved - except during Fasnacht.

Chivalry towards women and the elderly is common. Do not be surprised if you see the pierced mohawk punk on a tram or bus give up his/her seat to an elderly person. Offering to help mothers board their strollers into older high-floor trams is also commonplace. On the same note it is not unusual to see elderly yelling or swatting at young passengers, who they feel are not behaving. Drivers are also known for their gentlemanly attitude towards passengers: even though they aim to be painstakingly punctual, they will find the time to wait for a passenger running towards the bus or tram and keep the front or rear door open.

Lost and Found

If you happen to lose something, don't despair. There is a fair chance that the person who finds the item will try to contact you personally, if it has a name or address on it. Real story: A Basel resident found a credit card on the street and took the time to visit a number of nearby office buildings and inquire about the possibility of the card owner working in that building. The rightful owner was eventually found after several inquiries. If you don't want to wait for such a punctilious finder to find you, try the city's Lost and Found to check if anyone has returned the item for claim:

In the case of the SBB Fundbüro, you may, for a fee, report a loss and provide an address to have the item sent in case it is returned.Given the tradition of good citizenry in returning lost items, it is a point of honor to offer a "finder's fee" of 10% of the property value.


Local, national and international news are provided by the German-speaking daily Basler Zeitung and a variety of other Swiss and international newspapers, many of which are available at many kiosks, particularly in the city center or at the train stations.

Basel's mainstream local radio station is Radio Basilisk, FM 107.6 or internet stream, which broadcasts mainly Top 40 music and spoken word programs in baseldytsch (i.e., dialect).

English speakers may consider tuning in to Radio X, FM 94.5 or internet stream, which broadcasts in several foreign languages, including English (The English Show on Tuesday nights, from 6:30 to 8PM).

Go next

The following destinations are good day trips by train from Basel:

The Kapellbrücke is an astounding historic landmark. Built of wood, it suffered a disastrous fire in the 90s. The loss was confined to only part of the bridge and it has since been rebuilt. The history of the bridge goes back a long time and the loss in artwork was tragic. If you visit Lucerne, walk the bridge paying attention to the artwork in the rafters. This is a most delightful ten minute walk through the history of both graphic art and the skill of wooden bridge-builders.
This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, February 16, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.